STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) -Travis the chimpanzee could act in commercials, dress himself and drink wine from a glass. He was a constant companion for a lonely Connecticut widow who fed him steak, lobster and kept him in her home.

He behaved at times like a human – dressing and bathing himself, using the toilet, and eating at the table. He brushed his teeth with a Water Pik, logged on to a computer to look at photos and channel-surfed television with the remote control.

Police killed chimp

But when he mauled a woman and forced police to kill him Monday, he was acting like a wild chimp again. Investigators are trying to find out why – whether it was a bout of Lyme disease, a reaction to drugs or just natural instinct.

“It’s hard to say what exactly precipitated this behavior,” said Colleen McCann, a primatologist at the Bronx Zoo. “Something different in its environment made it react in a different way. At the end of the day, they are not human and you can’t always predict their behavior and how they or any other wild animal will respond when they feel threatened.”

The 200-pound adult chimp attacked and mauled 55-year-old Charla Nash on Monday, unstoppable as owner Sandra Herold frantically stabbed her beloved pet with a butcher knife and pounded him with a shovel.

Trapped officer

Travis then trapped a police officer in his squad car, forcing him to shoot the chimp several times. Nash was hospitalized in critical condition Tuesday with “life-changing, if not life-threatening,” injuries to her face and hands, Mayor Dannel Malloy said. Her family issued a statement Tuesday asking for privacy “during her recovery from these very serious injuries.”

Herold and two officers were treated for minor injuries.

Police said Travis was agitated earlier Monday and his owner, Sandra Herold, gave him the anti-anxiety drug Xanax in some tea. Police said the drug wasn’t prescribed for the chimp.

Stephen Rene Tello, executive director of Primarily Primates, a sanctuary for chimps in Texas, said it’s difficult to know what effect Xanax would have on chimps.

In humans, Xanax can cause memory loss or a lack of coordination, although some doctors also warn that the drug can cause emotionally unstable people to become more emotionally unstable.

Tello said the more significant problem is the chimp’s living environment.

“This is a drugged up dangerous wild animal living in an unsafe pet home,” Tello said. “It’s a very unwise situation. There are just a lot of factors going on in this unsafe environment that are truly unsafe for the neighbors and for the animal himself.”

Investigators say they’ve also been told that the chimp has been ill from Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness with flu-like symptoms that can lead to arthritis and meningitis in humans. “Maybe from the medications he was out of sorts. We really don’t know,” Stamford police Capt. Richard Conklin said.

Herold could not be reached for comment, although Conklin said she was “traumatized by this very, very brutal attack.” A woman answering the door at Herold’s home, where drops of blood stained the walkway, would not speak to reporters Tuesday.

Don Mecca, a family friend from Colchester, N.Y., said Travis was a close companion for Herold, a lonely widow whose daughter had died several years ago in a car accident. She fed him steak, lobster, ice cream and Italian food – “anything she thought he would like to eat,” he said.

Herold built the chimpanzee a large cage in her home. She knew that chimps could be dangerous, but kept Travis anyway. “She knew, but it’s hard to part with,” he said.

Police are looking at what criminal charges, if any, would be appropriate, including whether the chimpanzee had to be kept in an enclosure, Conklin said.

“It’s a little bit outside of our normal course of duties,” he said. “We’ll take it wherever it goes.”

New Haven-based lawyer William S. Palmieri, who handled an animal neglect case in Connecticut, said he does not believe criminal charges are likely. He said the chimp was “misguidedly well treated.”

“I really don’t think there is any intent to harm,” Palmieri said.

McCann, of the Bronx Zoo, said Tuesday that chimpanzees are unpredictable and dangerous even after living among humans for years.

“I don’t know the effects of Lyme disease on chimpanzees, but I will say that it’s deceiving to think that if any animal is, quote-unquote, well behaved around humans that means there is no risk involved to humans for potential outbursts of behavior,” she said. “They are unpredictable, and in instances like this you cannot control that behavior or prevent it from happening if it is in a private home.”

Connecticut law requires anyone who owns a primate heavier than 50 pounds to obtain a state permit. But Herold was exempted from the law and inspectors never visited his home, said Dennis Schain, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“Given that the family in Stamford owned Travis before this law was put on the books, and the fact that over the years the animal did not appear to present a public safety risk, their possession of the chimpanzee was allowed to continue,” he said.

The department is now reviewing the situation, Schain said.

Travis was well-known around Stamford because he rode around in trucks belonging to the towing company operated by his owners. On Monday, he was looking for another ride when he unlocked Herold’s door and attempted to open several car doors before Herold and Nash tried to coax him inside.

“The animal was intelligent enough to use a set of keys to unlock the lock and allow itself into the yard,” Conklin said. “Apparently the chimpanzee loves to go for rides and was looking to go for a ride yesterday.”

Police have dealt with him in the past, including an incident in 2003 when he escaped from his owners’ vehicle in downtown Stamford for two hours. Officers used cookies, macadamia treats and ice cream in an attempt to lure him, but subdued him only after he became too tired to resist.

At the time of the 2003 incident, police said the Herolds told them the chimpanzee was toilet trained, dressed himself, took his own bath, ate at the table and drank wine from a stemmed glass. He also brushed his teeth using a Water Pik, logged onto the computer to look at pictures, and watched television using the remote control, police said.

When he was younger, Travis appeared on TV commercials for Old Navy and Coca-Cola, made an appearance on the “Maury Povich Show” and took part in a television pilot, according to a 2003 story in The Advocate newspaper of Stamford.

“He’s been raised almost like a child by this family,” Conklin said Monday. “He rides in a car every day, he opens doors, he’s a very unique animal in that aspect. We have no indication of what provoked this behavior at all.”



Associated Press Writers Stephanie Reitz and Pat Eaton-Robb in Hartford contributed to this report.

AP-ES-02-17-09 1730EST


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